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US, Pakistan to Discuss Ties - 2001-07-29

Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Christina Rocca will be in Pakistan this week for talks aimed at building better strategic and economic ties. Cash-strapped Pakistan hopes to focus the discussion on lifting U.S. sanctions.

Ties between the United States and Pakistan have been strained by U.S. sanctions over Islamabad's nuclear program and its 1999 military coup. Washington also slapped sanctions against Pakistan's rival India for its nuclear program, but U.S. officials have been steadily moving towards closer ties with India, the world's largest democracy.

Pakistan's foreign ministry spokesman, Riaz Mohammed Khan, says Pakistan will urge Washington to be evenhanded in South Asia. "It has been stated very clearly," she said, "that Pakistan hopes that there will not be a differentiated approach for lifting of sanctions by the United States."

Ms. Rocca has said she believes the sanctions imposed against both countries for their 1998 nuclear tests have outlived their purpose, but Washington has voiced continued concern about Pakistan's slow road back to democracy.

Political analyst Talat Masood says the sanctions are hurting Pakistan's fragile economy, and will be Islamabad's number-one priority. "With the sanctions there, it becomes very difficult for the U.S./Pakistan relations to improve in a substantive sense," he said, "because everywhere the sanctions become a hurdle when you are trying to expand in any area of activity."

Ms. Rocca is expected to meet Tuesday with Pakistan's president General Pervez Musharraf and other senior officials.

Washington has hailed the recent summit between Mr. Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Though the talks failed to produce a signed agreement, Washington called them a good starting point. Ms. Rocca met with Indian officials in New Delhi last week.

She is also expected to raise concerns over Islamic extremism in Pakistan and Islamabad's ties to Afghanistan's ruling Taleban faction, which is sheltering accused terrorist Osama Bin Laden.